I recently received an email from the online platform LinkedIn informing me that I appeared in 18 searches last week. I didn’t know I was missing.

At least I thought I wasn’t.

A few months ago, I had a message on my phone about a possible gig. I returned the call. I said I was the English Concertina player who you left a message for. The person replied, ‘Thanks for calling me back. Glad I found you’ and preceded to ask me to play for his mother’s upcoming 80th birthday party. After getting some details out of the way I asked how he found me.

‘I have your business card’ he said. Turns out his mom and dad were regulars at a restaurant/café I played at which closed a year before the pandemic. His father had passed away last year, and they decided to have a “small family celebration” for her. Being from Paris she always enjoyed my music, especially the Piaf songs.

A few weeks later I arrived at an upstairs private room at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. The small family gathering turned out to be more than 50 people representing every generation of the past, present, and future. The happiness of the gathering was infective, and I was warmly welcomed as I set myself comfortably in a corner to be heard more than seen.

I played as agreed, two consecutive 50-minute sets. I was invited to eat and drink with everyone else which I did. One of the teenage grandsons of the honored guest opened his guitar case and he and I played Happy Birthday as the entire room sang mostly in key. Then this lanky young man asked if I could play with him as he learned a couple of French tunes. I accompanied him as he sang and played. It was a great time and experience.

Several people throughout the evening expressed they were glad they found me to play for the evening. I replied, me too.

If the pandemic taught me anything, it is that I was nonessential. Nurses and fast-food servers and the like, they were essential. Concertina players were not. Gigs cancelled and many of the places that used to book music stopped doing so completely. Many of those places eventually closed their doors as well. They too became nonessential.

Being in the music business, and the business of performing, you learn very quickly that life can sometimes be pretty tough. There are dozens and dozens of other performers waiting to be hired for the same gig you want. I learned that being unique and performing on the EC set me apart from others but also limited me as the desired choice.

I used to be part of an acrobatic musical clown duo called Bello & Stein. Joey Bello was a very talented mandolin player as well as one of funniest people you would ever meet. We went to an open casting call for paid performances for various Renaissance Fairs in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states. We performed a couple tunes and did some small acrobatic stunts for a three person panel seated behind a white foldout table. After we were done one of the women on the panel looked directly at me and asked if the concertina was played during the renaissance. I said it was not invented yet, but I play baroque music. She informed us that they only hire genuine renaissance musicians. To which Joey replied, ‘They must be really old’. I laughed. She did not. We didn’t get the gig.

A couple years later my agent sent me to a casting call for musicians for a cowboy themed event. I waited in the hallway with about 20 or so various guitar, mandolin, and fiddle players. When it came my time for my audition I walked in and stood once again facing another table, this time with four people. One of the panelists was that same woman lacking a sense of humor (IMO). I played a couple of old time tunes I learned for the audition after which she replied, ‘I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.’

I knew I wouldn’t get this gig either.

In my early years of show business, I worked extremely hard to become relevant and unique. I hustled to find paying gigs and in some cases creating a need and interest. In the early 80s South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan was finally completed.

Grand Opening of South Street Seaport

I had been successfully busking there for a year or so when I was approached by the head of public relations and business development to play at their official opening. Paid. I was thrilled and validated. After that I presented a business plan to become the house musician for the Seaport. I even put together a four-person group, The Seaport Carolers, to perform Christmas Carols for the holiday season. We were a big success and hired for the next season as well. During that second season a young couple approached me and said they came back to visit a second year and were glad to find us playing here again. We were too. It was a good gig.

I am very lucky to celebrate almost 5 decades of performing on the English Concertina. I always believe each person’s life has an impact on moving someone else’s story forward. I like to think one of my arrangements and teachings will influence and be an inspiration to another EC player. Or a tune heard wafting in the background would bring someone a moment of nostalgia, or at a minimum, a tender moment of kindness. There will come a day when my case is permanently closed. Someone else I hope will be heard playing one of my instruments. And perhaps someone will walk by, point, and say,’ hey I remember a guy who played an instrument like that.’

Until then…play on.



Randy Stein - English Concertina

Randy Stein is a classically trained musician and recording artist who plays and performs internationally on the English Concertina. Website: